By, Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @aryhorblueblood)
Bet365 Stadium/September 23, 2017
From one disappointing result against Arsenal to one that soothes the mind on Wednesday night in the Carabao Cup against a hapless Nottingham Forest team. What made the victory even sweeter is the fact we had three players from our academy begin the game in Andreas Christensen, Kenedy and Charly Musonda, the latter two completing the 90 minutes and Musonda capping his debut with a well-taken goal (and what a celebration from him too!) but a visit to the Bet365 Stadium is seldom an easy prospect. Stoke has won one and drawn one of their first two home matches this season against Arsenal and Manchester United. Antonio Conte won at the Bet365 Stadium last season but will be under no illusion that this is going to be an easy task.
Stoke City and Chelsea have faced each other a combined 99 times with Chelsea coming out tops 47 times (D22 L30). Stoke famously beat Chelsea to the 1972 League Cup but they have found the going tough in recent times against the Blues. Since the beginning of this millennium, the two teams have met 22 times in all competitions with Stoke winning just three times (L16 D3) most recently in the League Cup fourth round match during the 2015/16 season. Our first encounter against Stoke City in the Premier League came during the 2008/2009 season (their first season back in the Premier League since being relegated at the end of the 1984/85 season), since that first encounter however we’ve locked horns 17 more times with the current season being their tenth straight in the Premier League. Stoke failed to win any of their first ten matches in the Premier League against Chelsea (L8 D2). They are presently winless in three matches against us in the competition (L2 D1) and have just two wins against us in the Premier League over the course of the last nine seasons (D2 L14). Both their victories against Chelsea have come in the last five seasons and both have come in the comfort of the Bet365 Stadium. If there’s a team that Chelsea are comfortable playing against it is Stoke City (based on the stats of course) but Premier League mid-level teams no longer roll overs for the ‘big teams’ and this is going to be a difficult football match to navigate.
For the second midweek running, Antonio Conte got a good performance out of his squad players after watching an almost second string eleven demolish Nottingham Forest in round three of the Carabao Cup on Wednesday night. Although the likes of Rudiger, Kenedy, Musonda, Batshuayi and Zappacosta gave very good account of themselves, Conte is likely going to revert back to type for the trip to the Bet365 Stadium. Tiemoue Bakayoko certainly made a case for himself with his performance after he was introduced at half time against Arsenal and also against Forest when he started and finished the game. Cesc Fabregas seemed to have played his way into Antonio Conte’s plans this season having being involved in every match he’s eligible for so far. On Sunday against Arsenal, he started a third straight Premier League match for the first time under Antonio Conte and will ikely get the nod from the start again on Saturday afternoon depending on how the coach decides to line up his team, considering how physical the Stoke City team tend to be. Eden Hazard completed his first 90 minutes of the season against Forest at Stamford Bridge at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. He looked sharp and could have capped his performance with a goal if not for the woodwork that stood in the way but he should be in line to start his first Premier League game since the end of last season at the Bet365 Stadium on Saturday. Morata too should come back in to lead the line even after Batshuayi’s hat trick feat against Forest on Wednesday. Antonio Rudiger will feel hard done by if he were to return to the bench after his performance on Wednesday night, supplying the pass that led directly to two goals; Kenedy’s opener and Batshuayi’s third. Antonio Conte surely will factor the trip to Spain in midweek and the visit of Man City to Stamford Bridge next Saturday into his team selection on Saturday.
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Bakayoko, Alonso; Hazard, Willian; Morata
Last Five Matches: WDWWW
Injuries: Danny Drinkwater (Muscular) –Doubt; Pedro Rodriguez (Leg)-Doubt; David Luiz (Suspended)
Mark Hughes is facing something of a defensive crisis with trio of Kurt Zouma, Geoff Cameron and Ryan Shawcross potentially unavailable. Zouma due to the terms of his loan deal and the latter two are injury doubts for the game on Saturday. Hughes has joined the bandwagon of those using three at the back this season, he has started with three at the back in all five Premier League game so far this season with the trio of Zouma, Cameron and Shawcross starting the first three; Zouma and Cameron started against United before the American succumbed to injury and missed their last game against Newcastle United. For the game at St. James’ Park, Kevin Wimmer, their summer signing from Spurs, and Bruno Martins Indi camento the team. Eric Pieters might be drafted into the back three with former Blue Glen Johnson and Senegalese Mame Diouf playing as wingbacks. Darren Fletcher and Joe Allen anchors the midfield while pacy wingers Jese Rodriguez and Xherdan Shaqiri play behind loan striker Eric Choupo-Moting. Mark Hughes used the height advantage of Peter Crouch to great effect last season against us and might choose to start him as the focal point of their attack on Saturday with Shaqiri and Jese there to supply the crosses.
Butland; Eric Pieters, Kevin Wimmer, Martins Indi; Johnson, Fletcher, Allen, Diouf; Shaqiri, Jese; Choupo-Moting.
Last 5 matches: LLDDW
Injuries: Geoff Cameron (Hamstring) – Doubt; Ryan Shawcross (Back)- Doubt; Ibrahim Afellay (Knee) –Out; Stephen Ireland (Knee) –Out; J. Ngoy (Leg) –Out.
Alvaro Morata vs. Kevin Wimmer
Morata has sometimes found the going to be tough against Premier League defenders because the game in England is much more physical than he’s used to, but against Kevin Wimmer he has a better chance because the Belgian’s physicality and pace is not up to the standard Morata has seen so far.
Marcos Alonso vs. Xherdan Shaqiri
Alonso knows what it feels like to face the Swiss from their battle at Stamford Bridge last season so he should be well prepared for whatever Shaqiri throws at him. Shaqiri likes to cut inside the fullback/wingback to his favoured left foot to shoot, something of which I’m sure Conte would have made Spaniard aware.
N’Golo Kante vs. Joe Allen
N’Golo Kante is second to none in terms of his off-the-ball play but the Frenchman has improved tremendously on the ball this season which makes Joe Allen’s task of stopping him all the more difficult. We have to wait and see how this midfield battle plays out on Saturday.
It’s not often that a team gets Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea as the first three visitors to their stadium in the Premier League but that’s Stoke City’s reality this season. Having defeated Arsenal and played out an entertaining draw against United, Stoke entertain the champions at the Bet365 Stadium in a match that’s important to both teams. Chelsea will be looking for a positive result to take into their next match against Manchester City and a loss for Stoke will bring them perilously close to the relegation zone. Stoke is one of the most physical teams in the Premier League today hence the Blues players must be prepared to get their jerseys dirty if they are to take anything from this game. The two matches between these two last season were close affairs even though Chelsea won them both and I predict this match will also follow similar pattern. I hope we will be smiling at the end of the match as we prepare for our trip to Atletico Madrid in midweek. Keep The Blue Flag Flying High, Blues!
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Goal Legacy
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